Conservator » Environment » Look me in the eye

Look me in the eye

When photographing wildlife, there’s no shame in getting down to their level.

A snapping turtle, snapped by Eric Bancroft near Kitchener, Ont., holds your gaze. ©Eric Bancroft
A snapping turtle, snapped by Eric Bancroft near Kitchener, Ont., holds your gaze. ©Eric Bancroft

From a moose in a marsh to a butterfly in your backyard, it’s exciting to encounter wildlife. In the heat of the moment, the first thought for many photographers is to not frighten the subject.

It’s easy to dismiss technique and start taking photos from where you’re standing, but if you want a crisp and intimate portrait of creatures big or small, try to view your subject at eye level. Here’s why:

It makes a picture sharper: When you shoot wildlife at eye level, position your camera with its sensor parallel to the most important plane of your subject (the eyes, and surrounding facial elements). This helps to keep these important parts of your subject at the same distance from your sensor, holding them in sharp focus.

It allows for a softer background: If you shoot from above, the image’s background will likely be elements on the ground or foliage behind your subject. Shooting at eye level increases separation between subject and surroundings, making it easier to achieve a softer, out-of-focus background.

It makes the scene intimate: Most wildlife that you come across will be smaller than you, and it’s difficult to not look downward at them. This creates a sense of superiority in a picture. Seeing your subject eye-to-eye helps enter their realm, and gain their perspective.

Cathy Simard captured a black-crowned night heron at water’s edge near Gatineau, Que. ©Cathy Simard
Kathleen Peterson ducked down to photograph a bufflehead taking flight at Road Lake, Sask. ©Kathleen Peterson
Kyle Nelner went eye-to-eye with a curious young duckling near Belle River, Ont. ©Kyle Nelner
Jeope Wolfe

Jeope Wolfe

Jeope Wolfe is a graphic designer for Ducks Unlimited Canada, hobbyist-level photographer and new-ish dad who chases his toddler daughter around the house, yard, and country.

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